My mom, Suzanne Swiss, went in for emergency surgery tonight. They removed part of her lower intestine, life-threatening ischemic bowel.
She may not survive the night. (Of course, that’s true for all of us at any time.) The doctors and nurses have been carefully preparing us for the worst. And there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m sitting out here in the waiting area; I should probably go home as my father and brother are doing. They’re exhausted and it seems the reasonable thing to do. But somehow intuition says stay a bit. Maybe just to write this, to clear my head a little bit. Some pray; I write. Both, I suppose, trying to remake the world with words.
I saw her yesterday. She collapsed yesterday afternoon and was brought to the ER and then the ICU, and I came to see her here. She was awake and improving when I left around midnight last night. They still didn’t know the cause but we thought it wasn’t too serious. We talked, we joked about this dramatic way to get me to come across town for a visit. We both said that we loved each other and were proud of each other.
Mortality is a hell of a thing. It’s always in the background, occasionally considered, an acknowledged but hidden fact, and it then suddenly jumps to the front of our concerns. If we spend too much time thinking about it we are paralyzed with fear and dread; if we never think about it we fail to acknowledge the fragility and preciousness of life.
There must be a thousand people around here who know my mom as “Miss Sue”, from her years in the schools — volunteer parent, school nurse, aide in special education classes; or as baseball team mom or neighborhood mom; or from her volunteer work at church. But there are only two who call her “Mom”, and one who calls her “my wife”.
Just yesterday before I got the call about her collapsing, I was telling someone how she and I took a reiki class together years ago, my first foray into learning a healing art. I got to tell her about that conversation last night, about how I’m shifting my life to move more into my healing arts practice. That side of me comes from her.
They’ve brought her back out to her room in the ICU and have all the miracles of modern medicine supporting her. I’m sitting here for a while with her, listening to the hiss and click of the ventilator. I brought the stuffed toy dog that my brother wanted to bring her, letting him visit on her bed for a while.
There’s another story I often tell about my mom. My brother and I were adults by this point, he working as a bouncer in Fells Point (my little brother is a big guy), me a karate black belt. Somehow my dad, my mom, and I got talking about the topic of self-defense.
“I don’t think I could ever hurt anyone, even to protect myself,” she said.
My dad asked, “What if someone threatened one of the boys?”
Though neither of us were boys, she replied instantly, “I’d tear them apart”. Pure momma bear protecting the cubs.
My Irish side comes from her. There were Celtic warrior queens back there, I’m sure of it.
It almost feels as if by staying here I’m telling the staff “Hey. This one matters. Go that extra mile”. Though the staff here at Franklin Square has been great.
Or maybe it’s just that I have to sit with it, and might as well do it at the source.
Or maybe I remember my uncle sitting at the side of his father, my grandfather. when he lay in extremis at the hospital.
I can go home and worry, or I can stay here and worry. Might as well stay.
Mom worked as a nurse for many years. When I was young she worked at Baltimore’s Children’s Hospital with some of the most seriously disabled kids. After a few years break she came back to nursing when I was in high school, working in a nursing home. There she suffered a career-ending injury when she had to move a patient without help. She underwent two spinal fusions, fought a nasty years-long worker’s comp suit against the nursing home, suffered from PTSD, and dealt with chronic pain.
It wore her down. At one point she told me that she couldn’t imagine ever having a job where she had to be compassionate or caring, she just didn’t have that in her any more.
A few years later she started working as an aide in special education classes, once again taking care of special needs kids. Even all that, the pain and the injury and the corporate bastards, couldn’t put out the bright sun that burns in her heart.
I could not be prouder to be my mother’s son.